Public Assistance and Homeless Shelter Trajectories

Report by Francisca García-Cobián Richter, Claudia Coulton, Robert Fischer, Nina Lalich, Ashley Hajski
January 2022

Center on Poverty and Community Development   (Cleveland)

The devastating economic impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced more families to struggle with the uncertainty of a stable job, a stable home, and even a stable provision of food. Although official data on the increase in homelessness will not be available until 2022 or even 2023, the threat of homelessness became a reality for the 6.4 million households nationwide, who by the middle of 2021 were behind on their rent. Eviction moratoria and rental assistance programs provided temporary relief to households in distress, yet the coronavirus pandemic has made more palpable the value of a robust social safety net to support housing stability and wellbeing for low-income families during extraordinary times.

In this brief, we discuss findings from our research on homelessness and public assistance participation prior to the pandemic, with a focus on how these findings can inform homelessness policy in a post-pandemic era. In a recent study, researchers at the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development (Poverty Center) investigated the extent to which individuals and families in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, were connected to the social safety net in and around the time they (first) entered homeless shelter and whether these supports prevented future reentries into shelter (Richter, et al. 2021). This study demonstrates the extent to which public assistance programs intersect the trajectories of people experiencing homelessness and suggests that more can be done to protect households and propel them into more stable housing. We provide a brief summary of the study findings and offer some examples of local efforts aimed at ending homelessness and improving access to the social safety net.